· Demos/Birkbeck analysis shows ethnic minority Britons steer clear of white areas to avoid being ‘ethnic pioneers’

· White British leaving diverse areas, but not due to racism or discomfort


New analysis of the ONS Longitudinal Study by Birkbeck College and the think-tank Demos reveals a growing trend of ‘comfort-zone segregation’.

The ESRC-sponsored research found 100,000 ethnic minority people left London for other parts of England and Wales between 2001 and 2011. However, they are mainly moving to diverse, mixed-minority wards rather than to the 80 per cent of England & Wales which averages 96 per cent white.

This has led to greater integration between minority groups, with Pakistanis, Indians, Afro-Caribbeans or Bangladeshis leaving their areas of concentration to mix with other minorities.

At the same time, 600,000 white British people left London for other parts of England and Wales – often opting for homogeneous wards which are over 90 per cent white.

The combination of these factors means that segregation between white British and minorities remains the same despite a decline in segregation between white British and individual minority groups like Bangladeshis.


‘Comfort-zone segregation’

In what Trevor Phillips has described as ‘comfort-zone segregation’, researchers found that white British people moving out of diverse areas don’t do so due to racism or discomfort with diversity – often being more tolerant than those staying.

Supplementary polling by YouGov showed that only 33% of more liberal white British – who said they were ‘fairly comfortable' with the idea of a spouse of another race – moved to a more diverse area, with 36% who said they were 'fairly uncomfortable' making the move during 2003-13.

The research also rules out ethnic differences in wealth or income as determining these migration patterns.

However, the research does identify a life-cycle effect. White British people are much more likely to move rapidly toward diversity in their twenties and strongly away when they have children – with an net influx of 24% into London of those in their twenties in the 2000s versus a net outflow of 20% of those with children.

Minorities have a less pronounced life cycle pattern, with only 0.5% more moving to London than away in their twenties, and only 7% more moving away among those with children.

Researchers attribute the pattern to white-minority differences in cultural tastes and neighbourhood ideals across the life cycle – and a reluctance to be ‘ethnic pioneers’.

Schooling may also play a role, and the researchers suggest that local authorities decide catchment areas carefully to avoid segregating groups.


Prof Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College said:

“The Census shows that since 2001, white British people have left London and other diverse areas for more homogeneous parts of the country. This is not exactly ‘white flight’ – it seems as though they’re influenced by friends and family as well as the neighbourhood ideals of their age group."

“But that doesn’t mean ethnicity isn’t important – Britain’s ethnic minorities haven’t caught the same fever for the countryside as white British over-30s, which seems to be linked to their reluctance to be ethnic pioneers.”


Trevor Philips, Chair of the Mapping Integration project at Demos said:

“We've been in denial on this issue for far too long. This research reveals that we have yet to face to up to the risk that we are drifting into a colour-coded society."

“There's no doubt that today's Britain is way more at ease with ethnic and cultural difference than the country in which I grew up – nobody moves out of the street because I've moved in. But ironically, the next generation's natural desire to do the right thing for their families is leading to a new kind of social division – what you might call comfort-zone segregation.

“The consequences are to set communities against each other and to build educational and economic division into our society. As we claw our way out of economic crisis, these are the last things we need. But if we're going to halt the trend we first have to acknowledge that it's taking place, and that's why what Professor Kaufman is telling us is so important.”




The permission of the Office for National Statistics to use the Longitudinal Study is gratefully acknowledged, as is the help provided by staff of the Centre for Longitudinal Study Information & User Support (CeLSIUS). CeLSIUS is supported by the ESRC Census of Population Programme (Award Ref: ES/K000365/1). The authors alone are responsible for the interpretation of the data.

Census output is Crown copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

The results presented are based on a test version of the LS database incorporating 2011 Census data. Figures may be subject to change when the final version of this database is released in November 2013.

The YouGov polling cited above is available here:


The full research slides are available here:


This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Additional analysis was conducted by Dr Gareth Harris of Birkbeck College.

This research is part of a long-running collaboration between Demos and Birkbeck, as part of Demos’ Integration programme.

For further interview or comment and to find out more please contact Ralph Scott.



Ralph Scott


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07933 770 498